Election 2012: Women Voters and Equal Pay

Deep in campaign silly season, “the war on ______” (fill in the blank) has become part of the jargon we hear on cable TV and see in Twitter hashtags.  I have actually seen #WaronLatinos, not a joke.

A journalist with 11 years of domestic and international reporting under my belt, I think it’s professionally lazy to start parroting terms because this kind of language takes a side. Context means everything: Democrats’ use of “War on Women” to describe Congressional Republicans’ block this week of the Paycheck Fairness Act is meant to paint the GOP as hurting women and their families by not supporting equal pay. This is very different than Republicans’ use of “War on Women” as it relates to President Obama’s health care reform. Although the law requires insurance companies to offer co-pay free birth control to members of their plans (and not force them to use it), conservatives believe this is an attack on religious freedom because it forces religious institutions to subsidize behavior that goes against its’ beliefs.

Still, when Senate Republicans refused to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, I asked myself, if not “waging war” on women, is the GOP doing a ton to hurt women and their families?  Nationally, women make 77 cents for every dollar earned by men, with Latinas making 60 cents on that dollar, according to the Trabajadoras report < http://www.lclaa.org/index.php/campaigns/trabajadoras> by the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (LCLAA).  This legislation was designed to close the wage gap, although Republicans voted against it on grounds that businesses will go bankrupt if employees begin filing lawsuits en masse related to unequal pay.  Not a single GOP lawmaker voted for this bill, including Ohio’s Rob Portman and Florida’s Marco Rubio, both men rumored to be on the so-called Veepstakes shortlist to be Mitt Romney’s running mate. 

How is this issue going to play in a close general election?  Latinos and women are powerful voting blocs, although the latter is more reliable--simply put, women show up to the polls not just during a Presidential election, but to PTA meetings.  That’s why the battle is on to own the message that gets shared in news sources, among friends, and on social media.

For example, @BarackObama tweeted: “President Obama kept his promise to fight for #Equal Pay for equal work” to which @NickyHobes1322 responded “Ppl need jobs before they can get paid, no?” – referring to the higher unemployment rate among women since the President took office. (Politifact notes Mr. Obama doesn’t bear all the blame for the recession, in the same way he shouldn’t take all the credit for recovery.)

Perceptions are powerful because they can influence voting behavior.  The question is, will the Paycheck Fairness Act galvanize women voters for an election that is still six months away?

Tell Us: What are your thoughts on equal pay? Do you think we’re making strides to be paid fairly?

Viviana Hurtado, blogger-in-chief at The Wise Latina Club, is a Washington, DC-based Latina politics columnist. Read more of Viviana's political posts here.